Why Is My Cat Panting? Causes and Measures You Can Take

Panting in cats is rare and often a sign of distress, unlike the frequent panting seen in dogs. This behavior can sometimes be innocuous, arising from excessive heat or exertion. However, it could also indicate serious health issues requiring immediate attention. 

In this blog, we’ll delve into the causes of cat panting, helping you distinguish between harmless and alarming panting so that you can respond appropriately to your cat’s needs.

Signs Your Cat is Panting

Typically, a panting cat will have its mouth open with the tongue slightly protruding, breathing in quick, shallow breaths. While panting, cats are usually lying down, but if they’re feeling particularly anxious or stressed, they might remain standing and alert.

Causes of Panting in Cats

According to our Pet Care Consultant, Eliezer Bauron, ‘The rhythm of a cat’s breathing can be a potential indicator of a calm, stressed, or diseased state.’ Here, we explore some common reasons why cats might pant, each warranting attention and, in some cases, immediate veterinary care.

Stress

Cats vary in their response to stress and trauma; common reactions include hiding, panting, shaking, and accidental bathroom incidents. These symptoms should gradually resolve once the source of stress is removed or if you manage to soothe your cat effectively. However, long-term trauma from past abuse or neglect might require more specialized care.

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections, often resembling the common cold, can cause symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, sneezing, and panting in cats. These infections require prompt treatment to prevent escalation into more serious health issues.

Asthma

Feline asthma, similar to human asthma, involves chronic inflammation of the lungs and is relatively common. It can be triggered by stress and environmental allergens, leading to asthma attacks characterized by coughing, wheezing, panting, and an increased respiratory rate. 

Pain

cat in pain

Cats are adept at hiding pain, but panting may be a clue that they are suffering. If you observe your cat panting along with other signs of discomfort such as limping, changes in eating habits, or unusual vocalization, it’s critical to seek veterinary care to address the underlying cause of the pain.

Ingested Objects

Cats are curious creatures, and sometimes this curiosity can lead to dangerous situations. If your cat swallows or inhales a foreign object like a piece of a toy or other household items, it can become lodged in their airways, leading to panting. This is an emergency situation, as the object can partially block their breathing, causing them to pant in an effort to get enough air.

Overheating

Cats have a limited ability to cool themselves. They have minimal sweat glands located only on their paw pads and between their toes, which are not sufficient for regulating their body temperature over their entire body. When overheated, cats will pant to expel heat through evaporation. This behavior is uncommon and typically a sign that your cat needs to cool down immediately. If you suspect your cat is overheating, it’s crucial to move them to a cooler environment and consult your veterinarian.

Overexertion

cats playing intensely

During intense play or exercise, cats, especially kittens, may pant. This form of panting is generally harmless and should subside once they calm down. However, if the panting is prolonged, or if your cat shows signs of distress, it is wise to intervene by calming them down and ensuring they rest.

Heart Issues

Cats can suffer from various heart conditions, including congestive heart failure, where fluid accumulates around the heart and lungs, making it difficult for them to breathe. Panting is a symptom that may appear as these diseases progress. 

Furthermore, certain cat breeds like Maine Coons, Ragdolls, British Shorthairs, Sphynxes, and Persians are genetically predisposed to cardiomyopathy, a structural disease of the heart muscle. 

Additionally, both young kittens and senior cats are more prone to heart issues, which can often be worsened by conditions like hyperthyroidism.

What to Do If Your Cat is Panting

If your cat has been engaging in vigorous play or has been active, it’s natural for them to pant. Allow your cat some time to rest quietly; this should help their breathing return to normal. If panting is due to overheating—perhaps after being outside on a hot day or in a warm room—move them to a cooler environment and provide fresh, cool water to drink. This should help them cool down and eventually stop panting.

Additionally, consider any stress factors that might be causing your cat to pant. Cats can be sensitive to loud noises, the presence of other animals, or unfamiliar people. Try to identify and remove any potential stress triggers to help your cat calm down. If your cat’s panting is accompanied by other signs of distress such as lethargy, coughing, or blue-tinged gums, it’s crucial to seek immediate veterinary care. Contact your vet or take your cat to an emergency clinic, as they may need professional medical attention to address any underlying health issues.

Preventative Measures to Avoid Panting in Cats

Certain causes of panting in cats can often be prevented with careful attention to their environment and stressors. Here are several tips you can take to help minimize the risk of panting due to stress or overheating:

Acclimatizing to Carriers and Travel

cat in carrier

Many cats experience stress during travel or when confined to a cat carrier. To help your cat become more comfortable with these situations:

  • Gradually acclimatize your cat to their carrier by leaving it open in the house with a comfortable bed inside. Occasionally place treats or toys in the carrier to encourage exploration.
  • Start with short journeys in the car, gradually increasing the duration. Ensure the carrier is secure and stable to prevent unnecessary movement.

Keeping Your Home Cool

To prevent overheating, particularly during hot weather or in the summer months: 

  • Keep your home cool by drawing blinds or curtains during the hottest part of the day.
  • Provide access to cooler areas such as tiled floors or basements, and consider using fans or air conditioning.
  • Ensure your cat has access to fresh water at all times to stay hydrated.

Reduce Stress at Home

Stress can induce panting, so maintaining a calm environment is crucial:

  • Identify potential stress triggers in your home and eliminate them if possible. This could include loud noises or the presence of strangers or other animals.
  • Create safe, quiet spaces where your cat can retreat when they feel overwhelmed.

Monitor Play and Exercise

While play is important for a cat’s health, excessive play can lead to panting:

  • Monitor your cat during play, especially vigorous activities, and encourage rest periods.
  • If you have multiple pets, supervise their interactions to ensure they are not overly strenuous or stressful for your cat.

Authors

  • Wai Ling

    Author:

    Foodie at heart and (almost) always with a camera in hand. When she's not busy with work, you'll find her munching around Singapore or snapping pics in some cool new spot.

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